KOCHI: No club in I-League history has managed to defend their title till date. It is a good indication of the level of competition produced season after season. And for the past few editions, it has gone down to the last matchday to decide the eventual champions.
Gokulam Kerala FC pipped TRAU FC and Churchill Brothers to the crown last season and the Kerala outfit's recent acquisition of experienced goalkeeper Rakshit Dagar from Sudeva FC is an indication that they want to have a serious go at defending the title.
CK Ubaid was the first-choice goalkeeper last season, but he joined Sreenidhi FC, leading to Gokulam's search for a number one custodian. And Gokulam managed to sign a seasoned I-League campaigner in Rakshit who is unfazed by the expectations placed on him.
"I don't believe in miracles or that we will win everything in front of us. But when I was at Minerva Punjab, no one expected us to win the title when we were competing against giants like Mohun Bagan, East Bengal and the other big teams. I-League is a very challenging competition but winning it for Gokulam is something I'm looking forward to," said the 28-year-old.
When asked about why he chose the Gokulam project, he said that he felt the club were building towards making their presence in Indian football, especially as they've been going from strength to strength.
"Since the club came into existence recently, they've been making waves, winning the Durand Cup and the I-League recently. The club is now gearing up for the AFC Cup and I wanted to test myself at a bigger stage. The bigger the stage and the more pressure, I look forward to it. Playing at East Bengal meant we were expected to win every match we played and then there was the Kolkata derby. At Minerva, we were the underdogs trying to fight against the bigger teams. So I'm used to all kinds of pressure," he said.
Gokulam became the first team from Kerala to win a league title at the national stage when they won the 2020-2021 title.
Rakshit believes that a lot of credit goes to their young and dynamic head coach Vincenzo Alberto Annese who led the Malabarians to the title with an attractive brand of football.
"I was impressed by him when I met him in the bio-bubble last season. After I signed for the club, we talked about our targets for the season and it is great that we have great ambitions of trying to give our best. Playing in Asia would be a huge step but we are all confident of putting on a good show and the confidence which the coach imparts is infectious. I'm glad I chose the Gokulam project because it looks one of the best and there were a few other offers on the table as well. I want to give it my all for Gokulam," he said.